Grits and Tamales

Life in the Deep South, by Gabriel Aguilera

The Greatest Play


Here is a roundup of what five scholars say about The Bard’s greatest play. Lear and Hamlet, of course, are noted by two. One says about Hamlet, “It’s the pinnacle of Shakespeare’s artistic achievement. Hands down.” Just a few years ago I would have agreed. To my mind, Lear has gained ground and surpassed it. Gospels aside, Lear, I think, might be the greatest love story I have ever read. None of it, though, is about romantic love.  The French King’s love for Cordelia is brushed aside early and we don’t see him again. There is Edgar’s lascivious love with the sisters. “Let copulation thrive…”, says Lear sardonically. Other loves abound and are explored, that of fathers and daughters, fathers and sons, and masters and servants. Lear provokes haunting horror, love, and tenderness. 

Other tidbits in the piece are a case made for Othello, which I don’t buy. I loved the case made for The Winter’s Tale that has convinced me to seek out a production ASAP. Still, I’m not buying this argument either.

A more intriguing argument made by one scholar is for Henry V. As the author notes, however, it is one piece of the Henriad and does not stand alone. To my mind, there is one great epic play within the Henriad. After trimming the fat — and there is a fair amount of it across the four plays — we could be left with an play to rival Lear and Hamlet.  Interestingly, after many years of studying these plays, I’ve come to the tentative conclusion that Hamlet and Lear are ultimately a rejection of Machiavellian politics. Lear is blatantly so whereas Hamlet is more cunning on this point. The Henriad, in contrast, is a celebration of politics and a deft rejection of monarchy that would make Machiavelli smile.



2 responses to “The Greatest Play

  1. frchriscox May 8, 2014 at 11:42 am

    Frankly, while the tragedies are marvelous, I prefer the comedies by Shakespeare, especially The Winter’s Tale. Many discount the comedies as lighter works than the tragedies, but chronologically they followed the tragedies. I think an argument can be made that they are indeed Shakespeare’s more mature work. There are also arguments to be made that they are more “Christian” than his earlier works.

    As a seminarian, I spent a year as an on-call chaplain at a local public hospital. Once a week, I would spend the night in the hospital. At the time, we had a very young child suffering badly with cystic fibrosis. I had spent the night accompanying a couple of deaths. At 8 a.m., as I went to leave the hospital via an elevator, the doors opened and this child, previously on the brink, comes bounding out, dragging her mother behind her. A line from The Winter’s Tale leapt to my mind: “Thou meetest with things dying, I with things new-born.”

    Tragedy or comedy, I remain grateful for the ways Shakespeare has enriched my life.

  2. gaofla67 May 9, 2014 at 11:56 am

    Padre, I hope to reach the point in my life where I will prefer the comedies to the tragedies. This will give me another slate of Shakespeare to revel in. Though I enjoy the comedies immensely, I prefer the statecraft of the Henriad and the pathos of the tragedies. The good news is that there are still many plays left for me to see, study, and enjoy.

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